Nuke(m)Con 2017

Another Nuke(m)Con is in the bag. Held September 29-October 1, the latest Nuke(m)Con continued a reinvigorated tradition that began in 2006.

Family and work emergencies played havoc with attendance this year as a broken water heater, a sick baby, and a super-sized work project kept three players away from the table. A family birthday and youth baseball game also conspired to keep two players away for stretches of the weekend.

Scheduling challenges aside, we ran four sessions of Dungeons & Dragons (including our first ever con slot for D&D Kids) as one session each of Dungeon World and Hollow Earth Expedition. We had a game master and three players for most of the slots; more players would have been great, but what we had worked well.

I played some of my favorite characters (the battle master Odothar for a mid-level Obsidian Frontier adventure, the wizard/warrior Merwyn for Tales from the Tower) for Dungeons & Dragons. They’re both crunchy characters with a lot of rules options, which is exactly what I was looking for this weekend.

Oh, and I rolled a lot of dice (casting disintegrate, heightened fireballs, and barrages of magic missiles will do that).

As for my own games, they went off pretty well. As I mentioned in my Game Day column, I went the low-prep route for my games, using off-the-shelf adventures or one-shots for Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon World, and Hollow Earth Expedition.

Amusingly we never made it into the dungeon proper for my follow-up Hidden Shrine adventure; in the first outing one of the characters (and the leader of the follow-up expedition) acquired an +2 axe with a “berserker” curse placed upon it. This drawback didn’t show up in his divinations into the axe’s other potent powers. As a result when a pack of dire hyenas attacked the group and the axe wielder was bitten, all hell broke loose. Suddenly his two adventuring companions were up against blood thirsty monsters and a boss who seemed intent on slaughtering everyone and everything around him. Fortunately the non-murderous heroes were able to restrain their boss with a spell, then flee to a safe distance. When he came to his senses, the heroes decided to pause and figure out what to do next. In the real world we broke for the night; I suspect we’ll return to the module the next time we need a pick up game.

Dungeon World played every bit as quirky as it read. The Old School Renissance-meets-story game RPG turns a lot of conventional mechanics on its head. Game masters only ever reacts to players; they never act on their own initiative. Most typical skills, feats, and other acts of daring are boiled down to moves which have ranges of success and failure. I’m glad we played it, and I’d like to play it again at a con with someone else running it, but I don’t know that it’s passive game master roll is right for me. I think I’d rather play something like Fate, which scratches a similar itch in in a less indirect way.

Hollow Earth Expedition was more in our wheelhouse as the one-shot I ran featured a group of mystery men on their way to investigate a Mayan ruin when they’re lost the Bermuda Triangle and warped to inner ocean of the Hollow Earth. The game’s a unique dice pool mechanic in which you roll dice and look for even numbered results, which represent successes. Characters resolve tasks either by getting successes equal to a target number or by getting more successes than an opponent in a roll off. Either way you’re rolling a considerable amount of dice, which is immensely satisfying. We played an introductory adventure, so we didn’t delve very deeply into the games mechanics (e.g. no spells or psionics) but I liked what I saw. Maybe not enough to replace Savage Worlds as my pulp game engine of choice, but enough to want to run the game again.

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A close up of the character sheet for Merwyn, the human battle-wizard I played at NukemCon 2017. Credit: Ken Newquist

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